Feelings of gratitude don't easily crack the daily to-do list, which is why we should feel especially thankful for Thanksgiving: Somehow this antiquated harvest festival has managed to force its way into our future-facing lives and make us savour the good things that often slip by unacknowledged.
In a time-challenged world, we give thanks too rarely. But when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, that ancestral idea of being blessed makes much more sense: What more do you need to ask for beyond food (and plenty of it), family, friends and conversation, plus the incomparable feeling that there's time to enjoy it all?
Time is the great modern luxury, and even when we have it, we often don't know how to use it. Thanksgiving, by its very name, prompts us to do what the occasion requires. We stand back and contemplate what we have, and feel good - ordinary life becomes the extraordinary thing it is, the daily gift that allows us to be fed, to be happy, to be at peace together.
There are many drawbacks to our version of paradise, and the rest of the year provides ample space to repair them. This is the time, the day, the meal when we're permitted to make room for appreciation - even the side-dish option of cranberry sauce requires such inspired co-operation of humans and nature for these brilliant berries to achieve life in an acidic bog that we should fall to our knees in wonder that agriculture manages such miracles.
Instead, lucky us, we take the cranberries as a given, along with the deep-purple grapes that magically turn into wine and the prairie wheat that makes its way via massive combine harvesters to the turkey's bread stuffing. Abundance is our way of life, almost our raison d'etre, and sometimes we lose sight of how rare that privilege is. But Thanksgiving has that necessary reminder built into its heritage: The groaning board of plenty isn't about excess or ostentation, some sort of show-offy, all-you-can-eat household buffet. Instead it's a kind of offering, however secular we've become, to the fates that have put us in a position where the simple act of eating is able to produce both joy and pleasure.
That's the philosophical ideal, anyway. A lot of advance work goes into that simple gratitude, just as a graduate degree in conflict resolution may be required to keep warring siblings in dinnertime entente. But Thanksgiving is a time when we at least resolve to make the effort and aim at a higher purpose - if Canadians since time immemorial have been able to look at a giant orange gourd in the field and envision a sweet that makes guests give thanks, who are we to ignite a turkey-versus-Tofurkey debate?
Food is too often a source of conflict in modern life, psychological if not physical. It's unfair, though understandable, that something so good should too often persuade us to feel bad. But one of the most gratifying parts of Thanksgiving is the power it possesses to resolve many of the thankless tensions we bring to the table: If only for the duration of one infinitely protracted meal, food isn't about calculating calories, one-upping the culinary competition, fretting over wine pairings or obsessing over nutritional minutiae (though you've got to like the cranberry's anti-oxidant properties).
Most of the menu is laid down by tradition, that impeccable decision maker with whom, for one day only, no future-facing modernist is allowed to quarrel. So why not accept it, find inner peace, give thanks - and don't forget to help with the dishes.
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